24.06.2012 - ODG

Education for sustainability - 'Folha de São Paulo' (Brazil)

Published in Folha de São Paulo (Brazil) on 24 June 2012.

When the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami struck on 11 March 2011, almost all the elementary and junior high school children in the small coastal town of Kamaishi survived. They survived, because they had been taught to react. The defence against such disasters lies in the minds of children and adults. Skills hold the keys to the sustainable development of societies at a time of global change. Building these skills must start as early as possible – on school benches.

A thousand miles from there, Lorna Down is a literature teacher in Jamaica. When she attended her first Education for Sustainable Development meeting, she did not understand how her discipline was related to sustainable development. Eventually, she realized she could weave this issue into her literature courses using the theme of violence, an important social sustainability issue for Jamaica. Today, her programme has been taken up by most teachers in colleges in Jamaica.

Those two very different stories have something in common – they show the importance of education for sustainable development.

As global leaders head home from the Rio+20 summit, they must take with them the understanding that green growth cannot be achieved by economic and political agreements or technological solutions alone. There can be no sustainable development when risks erode progress, when inequalities and violence weaken societies. Green growth will be sustainable if it is rooted in green societies, underpinned by the right knowledge, skills and values.

This is the purpose of education for sustainable development (ESD), which calls for the comprehensive revision of curricula, job qualifications and educational programmes. It requires the development of relevant training and capacity-building for a wide variety of professionals. Not easy, but worth every effort.

Imagine a group of students from a secondary school discussing climate change. After learning about the causes and effects of greenhouse gases on the earth’s atmosphere, students work in small groups on what they can do to reduce their individual carbon footprint. They develop a check-list on how to save energy at home and in class. They start planting native trees with their teacher on the school property. Learning about ecological contexts, they acquire social skills needed for green jobs. Taking ownership of the project, these students then go on to inform the local community about their project and provide information to the school magazine and local newspaper. All of this will craft new skills for innovation that are essential for sustainable development.

This vision is a reality in schools across the planet. Sweden has made mandatory by law and national curriculum the teaching and learning of sustainable development at various levels within the education system. More than 800 professionals from 42 countries in Asia and Africa have taken part in training programmes funded by Sweden. Japan has integrated ESD into national curriculum guidelines and the Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education. China has designated 1,000 schools as experimental schools for ESD and included ESD into the National Outline for Education Reform.

Education for sustainable development has come of age. Rio+20 provided a chance to recognize this and build on it. The next step is to include education for sustainable development into development strategies. When the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015, a new framework with global “Sustainable Development Goals” shall renew our commitment for development. Education for sustainable development must be an integral part of this post-2015 cooperation framework.




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